Service Dogs for Anxiety

By Jodi Thornton O'Connell

Like any other service animal, psychiatric service dogs complete tasks for their handlers that they cannot do for themselves. Service dogs for anxiety perform duties that reach far beyond merely providing a comforting presence, licking or cuddling.

Service and Emotional Support Dogs

Service dogs for anxiety must have special training to help their handler complete tasks that he cannot do for himself. Calming a sufferer of post-traumatic stress disorder during an anxiety attack or helping him find the way back home afterward are just two examples. By contrast, an emotional support animal does not have to do any specific tasks, but reduces anxiety and fear just by his presence. Both animals usually are considered to be a reasonable accommodation when it comes to housing where pets aren't otherwise allowed. However, a business owner does not need to allow an emotional support animal into a public place, according to the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Know the Law

Having anxiety does not qualify someone as a person with a disability. Only 6 percent of people diagnosed with mental illness qualify as severely mentally ill, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A note from your doctor saying that you need a dog to perform specific tasks to live is what you'll need if you plan to take your dog on an airplane. Service vests, tags or evidence of registration do not provide legal evidence of a service animal. Should a business owner question you, they may only ask if you have a disability that requires the animal's presence, and what tasks he's trained to perform.

The Smell of Fear and Strange Vibrations

Dogs experience their world primarily through their sense of smell, and can smell physical changes in the body before the onset of an anxiety attack. A trained service dog for anxiety can pick up on physiological changes and interrupt a panic attack, or alert a family member if his handler is nonresponsive. Dogs are 100 times more sensitive to smells and electromagnetic energy. Dogs can sense when their handler is disoriented after an anxiety attack and backtrack their scent to a safe location.

Anxiety Dog Training

You can find a service dog specially trained to help with anxiety attacks through foundations such as Assistance Dogs International or the Delta Society. The foundations can recommend trainers in various parts of the country if you want to train your own dog. A qualified trainer can help your dog learn things such as searching your house before you enter, interrupting anxious behavior with a positive alternative, or even bringing medication during an anxiety attack.